Monday, September 13, 2010

James Sheard: Dammtor

I'm delighted to feature a poem from James Sheard's new book, Dammtor. My copy has just arrived and I'm slavering to read it.

Jim Sheard was born in Cyprus in 1962 and spent his childhood abroad, mainly in Singapore and Germany. His first collection – Scattering Eva – was published in 2005 with Jonathan Cape, and was shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best First Collection 2005 and the Glenn Dimplex New Writers’ Award 2006 in the poetry category.

Sheard's poetry is intricately worked, musical and thrilling. His influences are mainly European, and his work is largely unlike anything else in contemporary UK poetry. In Dammtor it becomes more noirish, bleaker and at times funnier too. Sheard challenges expectations about what a poem ought to do – a feature at work in the poem below, 'Others', whose wry horror I find absolutely wonderful. Dammtor is a Poetry Book Society Recommendation for this Autumn. Click forth and buy it.


There was a rule
and the rule said
that once was ok
and twice if you had to.
She laid the rule down
on our scarred table,
on our head-stained pillow -
she stirred it into our coffee
with a tarnished spoon.
She laughed, I laughed:
because once was ok,
and sometimes you had to
fuck them twice: to tie up
the frayed end;
to slap them down;
for pleasure, for vengeance.
Sometimes you had to,
had to, had to.
So for each one, once -
or twice if I had to -
I would bring strong tea
to her morning room, and kneel
to the slats of her low bed,
to her seaweedy scent,
to his surprise. She grinned,
I grinned. I laid the tray
on her lacquered table
and padded away. Because
once was ok, and twice
if you had to, had to, had to.
As for her, she would sit
in the kitchen’s dark, watch
the hallway, listen for my steps
and the steps of the others,
let smoke drift into the light.
She stayed silent. She had to.
She most liked the time when
my soaked sleep was deepest.
She would crouch on the floor,
finger the clothing and whisper.
I would wake, yes, but lie still.
I had to, had to, had to.

James Sheard


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